Tidy Your Lawn Before Moving to Greener Pastures

By Kathryn Tyler Apr 2, 2010

In September 2008, Michell Baker, PHR, brought to a close six years as an HR executive at a national 120,000-employee transportation company headquartered in Cincinnati. She resigned to move closer to family in Indianapolis. “I loved the job, but my priorities weren’t straight,” she says. “I was eating and breathing work.”

The chief financial officer urged her to stay but understood her decision. Baker agreed to remain for a month until the company could find her successor. In the final weeks, she parceled out unfinished projects, organized files, trained a replacement, smoothed ruffled feathers of those upset about her resignation and reassured managers of her commitment to confidentiality.

After an amicable departure, the company paid her COBRA health premiums and a severance package. She had never heard of someone who resigned and got severance. The reason? Executives were grateful for her professionalism through her final day.

Baker serves as a role model for other professionals preparing a trouble-free transition for their successors. “Act like it is your third day or fifth week,” she says. “Leave with dignity, not arrogance.” Baker is now the HR manager at G&H Wire Co., an 80-employee orthodontics manufacturer in Franklin, Ind.

Whether moving to a new position or being laid off, a manager’s final weeks on the job remain crucial for maintaining a first-class reputation. “Your reputation will extend past your current employer,” says lawyer Johnny C. Taylor Jr., SPHR, author ofThe Trouble with HR: An Insider’s Guide to Finding and Keeping the Best People(Amacom, 2009). “Others will know if you were petty, unprofessional or discourteous. Leave your shop the way you would like to receive it.”

Moreover, professionalism and a positive attitude should be conveyed in your resignation letter, advises Marian Knowles, an HR manager for the Universal wholesale petroleum company in New Castle, Del. “A resignation doesn’t have to be a negative event.”

Indeed, the ways managers carry out their responsibilities during their final weeks on the job constitute a measure of character. To demonstrate integrity and reliability, exiting leaders may need to manage employee reactions to their departures; train replacements; review confidentiality, nonsolicitation and noncompete agreements; and maintain a positive attitude.

Employee Reactions

Be prepared for strong reactions from employees. The better customer service you provided, the more upset employees will be. Their No. 1 concern is whether the next person will be as accessible and efficient, according to Baker.

When Baker announced her resignation, “99 percent of employees understood, but some had sour feelings,” she says. “A couple of people cried. A couple of people got mad at me.” She advises managers to say, “ ‘I’m extremely flattered. I have complete faith you’re in good hands. Wish me luck.’ ”

Maintain a positive relationship with co-workers and other managers to retain contact information for networking purposes, Baker says. “Recently, I called my former VP and said, ‘I’m in this situation, and this is how I’m handling it. I need a sounding board.’ It helps to keep bridges. You never know when you’ll need those resources.”

Hand Off Projects

View your office and projects with a fresh eye. “Organize the office so the next person can find everything easily,” advises Susan Anderson, HR director for Notre Dame College in Cleveland. Label files, create how-to guides, and document processes. Keep in mind that file names that make sense to you may not make sense to another manager. Choose clear yet descriptive titles. In documenting employee relations matters, include useful background information since the new manager likely is coming in cold and doesn’t know the players.

Taylor recommends writing a “parting memo that puts everything in order. Be willing to leave your phone number, and be helpful” if your replacement calls.

Request a replacement as soon as possible. Train the new person and introduce him or her to internal and external customers.

Maintain Integrity

“Be open and transparent,” says Robert Milligan, a partner in Los Angeles with the Seyfarth Shaw LLP law firm. “Don’t print lists of customers, burn sales figures to a disk or e-mail documents to yourself. You’re not doing your new employer any favors by taking documents or information. And it can lead to litigation.” He notes that technology leaves a footprint—meaning employers have records of your actions.

And Taylor warns that sharing information about your former employer with your new one may give the impression you can’t be trusted.

Knowles advises managers to “Put as much heart and soul into leaving the position as you did when you took the job. When I run into former co-workers and managers, I want to hear them say, ‘Boy, we miss you.’ ”

The author, a former HR generalist and trainer, is a freelance writer in Wixom, Mich.


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